Comcast to change channels once again

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AMC to move to digital tier

"Mad Men" fans in the City of Pittsburgh, take note: Comcast plans to move the AMC channel from the standard cable tier to digital starter on Aug. 3.

The new season of "Mad Men" begins Aug. 16.

The digital tier requires a cable box; standard cable does not. Comcast will offer current standard customers the digital starter tier with one box for a year with no cost increase.

The Big Ten Network will move from standard to digital starter in the city, suburbs and Greensburg. Both AMC and BTN will retain their current channel numbers; AMC only moves to digital in the city.

A wide array of changes that Comcast announced in legal notices published today sort of mirror last year's kerfuffle over the company's decision to migrate MSNBC, among other channels, from standard to digital, prompting a chorus of cries from viewers who believed it was an attempt to muzzle liberal hosts such as MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. It wasn't.

But these moves are an effort to wean more customers off standard cable ($57.99 currently in most areas) to the slightly more expensive digital starter ($60.98). That's a $2.99 monthly increase or $35.88 per year. (The cost of rental of a customer's first cable box in the digital starter tier is embedded in the tier's cost.)

"By delivering more channels digitally, we're able to respond today and in the coming months to strong customer demand for additional services and programming, including more HD content and faster internet speeds," Comcast said in a statement. "Our current offer makes it easy and inexpensive for Standard customers to get the better picture and sound quality and 10,000 On Demand choices that come with digital cable."

Other changes coming to various parts of the region include:

On traditional Comcast systems:

For city/suburban/Greensburg customers, Comcast will move nine channels down from a higher tier (digital classic, $73.93 monthly) to the less expensive digital starter. But they aren't exactly the most popular channels: Bio, Bloomberg, C-SPAN3, History International, Daystar, Jewelry TV, ShopNBC, TBN, The Word. Channel numbers will not change. (Channels currently in the digital starter tier in the city/suburbs/Greensburg include MoviePlex, G4, MSNBC, GSN, Oxygen, TruTV, C-SPAN2 and Hallmark.)

On former Adelphia systems:

Comcast will migrate channels in former Adelphia areas, too. Channels moving up from standard to digital starter in localities such as Monroeville, Plum, Murrysville, Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon, Robinson and West Mifflin include Animal Planet, Big Ten Network, Cartoon Network, CMT, History Channel and Style. (An exception: Animal Planet, History and Style won't move in Monroeville.)

Standard cable subscribers on former Adelphia systems can get up to three free cable boxes for one year if they upgrade to digital starter; they too will continue to pay the standard cable rate for one year.

On most former Adelphia systems, seven channels will move down from digital classic to digital starter: Bio, Bloomberg, C-SPAN3, History International, Lifetime Movie Network, TBN and The Word.

Monroeville has two exceptions: TBN and The Word will not migrate to the lower-cost tier. In addition, C-SPAN will move from standard (Channel 51) to basic (Channel 95) but will now require a cable box to be received.

Former Adelphia customers will see the launch of several channels, including Retirement Life TV (Channel 161) and Hallmark Movie Channel (236), plus seven new HD channels: Bio (223), Lifetime (234), Lifetime Movie Network (235), MLB (282), Nick (231), Planet Green (221) and Spike TV (218).

And lastly:

ESPNU will launch in all areas on the digital classic tier sometime before mid-August on Channel 266 on traditional Comcast systems and on Channel 174 on former Adelphia systems.

Dozens of channels in former Adelphia systems will also be assigned new channel numbers, effective Aug. 3. The new channel numbers for networks carried in the Post-Gazette's TV Week magazine will be reflected in the Aug. 2 issue's channel conversion chart.

Comcast will send information on these changes to its customers. Questions can be directed to the company by calling 1-800-COMCAST.

No news changes at WTAE

Now that Pennsylvania Lottery drawings have migrated to WTAE, there might be logic in the station expanding its 6 p.m. news to an hour to benefit from the ratings bump often generated by the 6:59 p.m. lottery drawing. But that could also be complicated.

The station would likely have to bump "ABC World News" to 7 p.m., where WTAE currently airs a syndicated show. Contracts with the syndicator may not allow the station to move "Inside Edition" out of the 7 p.m. hour.

"We will keep our options open," said WTAE general manager Rich Henry this week, "but there will be no changes to newscast schedule at this time."

Even without the lottery bump to local news in the early evening, Channel 4 still stands to benefit ratings-wise from the 10:59 p.m. Powerball drawings that air Wednesday and Saturday.

Channel surfing

Discovery Channel will air an hour-long tribute to the late Billy Mays at 9 p.m. July 9. ... CBS's "Flashpoint" returns with new episodes on July 17. ... Showtime has canceled Rhode Island-set drama "Brotherhood" after three seasons. ... Jewish Life Television has been added to DirecTV as Channel 366 for customers with multi-satellite equipment.

Tuned In online

Follow TV news on Twitter or Facebook. I'm registered as RobOwenTV on both social media sites.

TV Q&A responds to questions about "Jon & Kate Plus 8," "Expedition Africa" and freelance meteorologists. Tuned In Journal includes posts on the viral pilot "Rex," the return of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and Pittsburgh references in the pilot episode of CBS's "Three Rivers." Read online TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

In this week's Tuned In podcast, A&E Web editor Sharon Eberson and I discuss TV coverage of the deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Billy Mays. Listen or subscribe at post-gazette.com/podcast.


Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv..


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